Who would quarrel with the idea that ideas themselves are the most powerful currency in the new world of business? The real fight is over who controls them. In his new book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (Random House, 2001), Lawrence Lessig wades into that fight. Lessig, of course, is one of the country's most prolific and influential pundits on matters of Internet governance. As a professor at Stanford Law School, he has weighed in on everything from the Microsoft antitrust case to the control of domain names.
The basic argument in The Future of Ideas goes far beyond headline-generating controversies. In fact, its central thesis is pretty sobering: The "control revolution" set off by the Net most likely won't be won by the good guys — that is, by the forces advocating individual freedom and grassroots creativity. No, it will be won by the bad guys — the forces of top-down control and giant organizations. Lessig isn't worried so much about anything so Orwellian as the end of free speech. He's worried more about the diminishment of the unprecedented innovation that was fueled by the early stages of the Internet revolution.
The Future of Ideas examines the legal, regulatory, and economic environments that are emerging to corral the exuberant spirit of the Internet. It's about the past, present, and future of intellectual property, with an original idea at its core: a call for the creation of a "public commons" in the digital realm. Anyone with a stake in creating a smarter way to do business needs to read it. And be sure to buy it online — to help keep the Internet economy moving.
1. Lots of things about the Internet revolution didn't turn out the way the pioneers had planned. It's testimony to Candice Carpenter's staying power that the high-profile founder of iVillage.com, whose bloody encounter with the dotcom whipsaw has been thoroughly chronicled, critiqued, and picked over, would publish a memoir that offers advice on leadership. But that's what she does in Chapters: Creating a Life of Exhilaration and Accomplishment in the Face of Change (McGraw Hill, 2001), and — surprise again! — it is an engaging and instructive read. Say what you will about Candice Carpenter, but she is awfully smart and never boring. The same can be said of her book.
2. Steven B. Sample is about as far from Candice Carpenter as one can imagine — which just goes to show you that there's more than one way to be a leader. In The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2001), Sample, president of the University of Southern California and the man widely credited with turning USC into a world-class learning institution, offers his unique brand of unconventional wisdom.
3. Heard enough about intellectual property and the art and science of leadership? Why not take a journey into the nature of the human animal itself. In Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices (Jossey-Bass, 2001), Harvard Business School professors Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria "synthesize 200 years of thought along with the latest research drawn from the biological and social sciences to propose a new theory, a unified synthesis of human nature." And you thought iVillage's business plan was ambitious!
A version of this article appeared in the November 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.